Nancy Walser soared to a landslide victory for one of six spots on the Cambridge School Committee and two challengers edged their way on board, according to preliminary election results released last night.
Incumbent Alan C. Price was ousted as challengers Marc McGovern and Ben Lummis earned seats on the committee. In addition to Walser, Alfred B. Fantini, Richard Harding, Jr. and Joseph G. Grassi retained their seats on a board just emerging from a rough and tumble school closure fight.
Walser, who led the second place candidate by a wide margin of over 800 votes, said she was “relieved” to begin what will be her third term. In the last municipal election two years ago, Walser narrowly defeated incumbent Susana M. Segat after a close election followed by a recount.
“Two years ago this time I’d thought I’d lost,” she said.
And this year, some Cambridge voters had pledged to bring on her downfall.
In the wake of divisive year-long battle over the ultimate closure and merger of several of the district’s 15 elementary schools, vocal Cambridge parents promised to vote Walser down because of her support of the consolidation plan.
But the opposition proved insufficient to oust Walser, who gained support from the quieter supporters of the plan.
“Anger over the mergers was reflective of some school communities but not all of them,” Cambridge Teachers Association President Paul Toner said.
Other city officials speculated that Walser raked up votes because she was the sole woman on the ballot after committee member Alice L. Turkel decided not to run for re-election.
“With Alice Turkel not running and Susana Segat not running, there were 5,000 votes available,” Fantini said.
But Turkel said Walser won of her own right due to name recognition and a strong campaign.
“She wasn’t an unknown entity,” Turkel said.
Meanwhile, some city officials and residents attributed Price’s defeat to Lummis’ strong presence in the race. Price is said to have encouraged his former campaign manager to run, and the two split a common constituency.
“Alan took a risk when he had his campaign manager run,” Fantini said. “They’re certainly going to vie for the same votes.”
Price and Lummis both appealed to upper-middle class constituencies. In general, the candidates ran more on character than policy, though the school closure issue offered some definition to the race.
Some observers of the election said Price failed to campaign aggressively enough, but they also suggested that the first-term incumbent’s stance on the consolidation debacle may have contributed to his defeat. Council members have accused Price of failing to take a consistent stance on the process. Amidst the chaos of last year’s fight, Price proposed and then retracted a controversial merger plan last November.
—Staff writer Claire A. Pasternack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.